Ecstasy - into the world of techno and rave culture (New York, London,
Toronto: Little, Brown and Company) 1998
Chapter 16 - Crashing the Party:
American Rave's Descent Into the Darkside, 1993-97
by Simon Reynolds
(page 298-303, excerpt from chapter 16)
thumbnail to enlarge front cover or read inside flap synopsis
is the Devil's Music! Beware the
hypnotic voodoo rhythm, a reckless
dance down the Devil's road of sin and
self-destruction, leading youth to eternal
damnation in the fiery depths of hell!
DROP BASS NETWORK
flyer for Even Furthur, May 1996
Despite the ritual burning of a wicker man, it's hard to take Even
Furthur seriously as "an epic pagan gathering of the tribes
of Evil." The vibe is closer to a scout retreat (which is actually
what the site, Eagle Cave in rural Wisconsin, is usually hired out
for). After sundown, kids sit around bonfires on the hill slope,
toasting marshmallows and barbecuing burgers. The atmosphere is
a peculiar blend of innocent outdoor fun and hardcore decadence.
For if this is a scout camp, it's one awash with hallucinogens.
a disco glitterball suspended from a tree, a gaggle of amateur dealers
trade illegal substances. "Are you buying more acid,
Craig?" asks one kid, incredulous at his buddy's intake. The
vendor is offering five doses for $20. "Weird Pyramids ain't
nuthin' compared to these," he boasts, then extemporizes
to the tune of Johnny Nash's soul smash: "I can see Furthur
now the rain is gone / I can see all the mud and freaks at play."
Conversation turns to bad trip casualties, like the guy who went
berserk, smashed in several windshields with a log, and was carted
off by the local sheriff. The LSD dealer rants about "rich
kid crybabies" who can't handle their drugs. He's also offering
some G (the steroidlike GHB) and "Sweet Tart" XTC. "They're
mushy," he hard-sells, "but there's a speed buzz,
they won't smack you out - there's no heroin in them." Later,
we hear rumors of kids injecting Ecstasy - not for its putative
heroin content, but out of sheer impatience to feel the rush.
scary thing is how young these kids are - hardened drug veterans
before they're legally able to drink at age twenty-one. I overhear
another boy enthusing about how great it is to "hear the old
music, like Donna Summer," and I realize with a shock that
"I Feel Love" came out before this kid was even born.
In Even Furthur's main tent, Chicago DJ Boo Williams is playing
a set of voluptuous, curvaceous house informed by this golden era
of disco, tracks like Gusto's "Disco Revenge."
Scott Hardkiss pumps out feathery, floaty softcore (including his
awesomely eerie remix of Elton John's "Rocket Man") sending
silvery rivulets of rapture rippling down every raver's flesh. My
wife points out a boy who's dancing with a folding chair strapped
to his back, a sort of portable chill-out zone. A space-cadet girl
sits cross-legged beside the DJ both, eyes closed rocking and writhing
in X-T-C. Earlier she'd been handing out leaflets about aliens called
"The Greys," who she claims are from Zeta Riticuli in
the constellation Orion and are in league with US military intelligence.
Abduction stories and UFO sightings are common at American raves,
doubtless because of the prodigious consumption of hallucinogens.
Loads of kids wear T-shirts featuring slant-eyes ET-type humanoids.
a certain folksy charm to Wisconsin's small-town ways: when we tell
a curious storekeeper we're in town for "a music festive,"
she quaintly replies "cool bean!" (meaning "good
for you!"). But there's also the unnerving underside of traditionalism,
like the grotesque graveyard of tiny crosses by the roadside - a
memorial to aborted fetuses put up by Pro-Life evangelists. All
in all, this agrarian backwater is the last place you'd expect to
find a psychedelic freak-out. But the wilds of Wisconsin is where
the Furthur series of three-day raves have taken place since 1994.
On the rave's flyers, the trippy typography harks back to the posters
for acid rock bands in Haight-Ashbury, while the misspelled "Furthur"
originates in the destination posted on the front of the bus driven
by the Merry Pranksters, Ken Kesey's troupe of acid evangelists.
the first Furthur "techno campout" - at Hixton, Wisconsin,
from April 29 to Mary 1, 1994 - one of the promoters (David J. Prince,
editor of Chicago rave-zine Reactor) got so blissed he danced
naked on a speaker stack. On the final Sunday, several organizers
were arrested by the local sheriff. At the third annual rave, there's
no trouble from the law. But Even Furthur is a lawless zone. Although
you have to pay for admission, the atmosphere is closer to England's
illegal free parties than to a commercial rave.
Even Furthur kids aren't crusty-traveler types, though - they're
much more fashion-conscious and middle-class, as American ravers
tend to be. The guys sport sock hats and B-boyish silver chains
that dangle in a loop from the waist to the knee. Girls have the
Bjork-meets-Princess-Leia space-pixie look of a futuristic innocence;
their shiny synthetic fabrics, bright kindergarten colors, bunched
pigtails, cutesy backpacks, and cuddly toys make them look even
younger than they really are (mostly sixteen to twenty-two). Everyone
wears absurdly baggy jeans, the flared bottoms soaked in mud because
continual downpour had transformed the campsite into a swamp.
Castlemorton, Even Furthur is a chaotic sprawl of cars, RV caravans,
trailers, and tents. There's no security and no lighting; you have
to stumble glint of bonfires dotting the hill slope. All this gets
to be a gas, although it's slightly disturbing that there's no on-site
paramedics to deal with acid freakouts, like the shoeless, shirtless,
mud-spattered boy who keeps howling single words over and over -
"Friends! Friends!," "Worms! Worms! Worms!,"
"Dead!" - while other kids try to restrain him from fleeing
into the woods. In England, the main reason to have paramedics is
to help Ecstasy overindulgers. But at Even Furthur, boiling alive
in your own blood is not really a hazard. It's cold and wet, and
over exertion is difficult, because dancing is a struggle: the second
tent is a puddle-strewn marsh (take a wrong step and you'll slide
into a sinkhole), while the main tent's floor is slippery and sloping.
three days, some hundred DJs and bands perform, spanning a broad
spectrum of rave music. There's a surprising amount of jungle on
offer: Mixmaster Morris spins crisp-'n-mellow drum and bass in a
small hillside tent, while Phantom 45 rinses out tearin' hardstep
in the big marquee. Not everybody's happy about the jungle influx,
though. Sitting outside on a car, a gabba fan whines, "Why
do breakbeats make me puke?" What really fires the pleasure
centers of this mostly midwestern, Minneapolis/Chicago/Milwaukee
crowd in the stomping four-to-the-floor kick drums of hard acid,
as purveyed by Brooklyn's Frankie Bones and Minnesota's Woody McBride
(whose Communique label copromoted Furthur in tandem with Drop Bass
Network and David Prince). Saturday's big hit, though, is French
due Daft Punk and their sinuous, sine-wavy brand of raw-but-kitschadelic
your regular commercial rave, Even Furthur has hardly any concessions
selling food or drink. In search of liquid, we trek up the treacherously
moist slope out of the camp toward the site owner's hut, where there
are toilets and a soft drink machine. It's pitch black as we trudge
up the dirt road, but every so often we pass a tiny bonfire with
a clutch of burned-out kids huddled together on muddy ledges carved
into the hillside, chatting and smoking weed. When we return down
the hill, the pale roseate dawn is peeking through the trees, caressing
our sore eyes. But as we get closer, our sore ears are assaulted
by a 200 bpm jackhammer pummel: the DJs aren't chilling out the
night's survivors but blasting ten thousand volts of gabba. At 7
a.m., gabbaphobe Mixmaster Morris retaliates with an impromptu audience
of exactly zero. "I've been here since Wednesday," Morris
tells me. "That's why I smell so bad!" He plays on for
six more hours.
Sunday evening, it's stopped raining at last, the mud had dried,
and the slightly reduced crowd consists of the hardcore party people
who just don't wanna go home. The Drop Bass Network crew pose for
a photo like end-of-year college students. I chat to their leader,
Kurt Eckes, who tells me over three thousand people turned up, some
from as far away as Florida, California, and Arizona.
of the teenage acid casualty the previous night, I suggest to Kurt
that some of the kids here look kinda young. Do their parents
know what they're up to? "I suspect they don't,"
he says, adding blithely that "a couple of parents called here
threatening to phone the police for having fourteen-and-fifteen-year-old
kids here without parental permission." Eckes's nonchalance
stems from Drop Bass Network's militantly underground attitude.
"There are no rules here at all," he grins.
is all about representing the rave scene's dark side. "Within
the rave scene, there's definitely some things going on which to
most people seem wrong," Eckes told Urb magazine. "They
seem right to us. We're just pushing those things to the limit."
DBN's version of rave might be called psychodelic rather
than psychedelic. Distancing himself from the Second Summer of Love
idyllicism of 1988, Eckes once declared: "I don't see myself
going to a party, talking E, hugging people, screaming peace and
love. I'm more...a person who'd rather go to a party, take a lot
of acid, and hug speakers." As Eckes and I chat, the nearest
sound system is pumping out Test's "Overdub," a classic
Roland 303-meets-gabba blitzkrieg unleashed in 1992 by Dance Ecstasy
2001, sister label of Frankfurt's PCP. As well as a party promoter,
DBN is a record label specializing in PCP-style industrial-strength
hardcore and mindfucker acid; the label's third release was titled
"Bad Acid - No Such Thing." But DBN's most punishing output
is released via a sublabel called SixSixtySix. The Satanic allusion
is a clue Eckes's subcultural strategy - turning heavy metal kids
onto techno (Milwaukee is a big town for thrash and "black"
well as the Furthur events, DBN throw regular "techno-pagan
ritual parties," often timed for the solstices. One such party
- Grave Rave, on Halloween Night 1992 - was treated like a modern-day
witches' mass by the authorities. Armed police stormed the building
and arrested not just the organizers but the entire audience. After
being detained in handcuffs for five hours, 973 people were issued
$325 citations for "aiding and abetting the unlicensed serving
of alcohol" (in fact only a few cans of beer were found). Those
under seventeen were also given tickets for violating the "teen
curfews" that Milwaukee, like many American cities, instituted
to "protect the young." But four hundred of those prosecuted
pleaded not guilty, ultimately forcing the city to drop the charges
because of bad publicity concerning the police's overreaction. Undaunted,
DBN threw a sequel "Helloween 93" party called Grave Reverence,
trailed with the promise "demons of the darkside taking control
of your soul."
Furthur is a microcosm of American rave culture in the late nineties.
On the upside, Furthur wouldn't exist without the zeal of the promoters
(who definitely aren't in it for the meager profits) and the dedication
of the kids, who are prepared to drive five to fifteen hours to
rave, and who sustain the geographically dispersed scene via the
Internet and fanzines like Tripp E Tymes. But on the downside,
there's the debauched extremity of the drug use, the tender age
of the participants, and the precarious relationship with the law
(the reason why Even Furthur had to take place at such a remote,
for furthur rave festival in wisconsin, april/may 1994,
with haight-ashbury typography and ken kesey's lsd bus paying
homage to the original psychedelic counterculture;
the micro-flyer hints that the devil has all the best beats